Since I started the Ask Hilary series, I’ve received a number of letters from both Japanese and international women asking about how they should feel in their relationship with their international/Japanese partner. Many of them describe the relationship starting off like a fairytale, but gradually becoming less fulfilling than other relationships they’ve had. It would just be easy to dismiss this as the end of the honeymoon period, or to tell them “that’s just how multicultural relationships work”, but that’s not necessarily the case for everyone. Open and honest communication is a huge part of having a successful international relationship but what if you’re communicating and still not satisfied?
One common point mentioned by many of these women is somehow feeling “less” than their partner—be that for financial, physical, linguistic, or other reasons. I asked the women in five successful international couples how they handled this feeling, and all five discussed dealing with issues of self-worth.
Self-worth And Impostor Syndrome
The dictionary definition of self-worth/self-esteem is “a sense of one’s own value as a human being” and “a feeling that you are a good person who deserves to be treated with respect”.
People with high self-worth feel good about themselves; they know they are a good person and take pride in their strengths. They know they have weaknesses, but aren’t defined by them. On the other hand, people with a low perception of self-worth feel like they are less than others and focus more on their weaknesses.
For the five women I spoke to, their self-worth initially hinged on their living circumstances. For some, coming to Japan felt like a new adventure at first. “I came to Japan with zero money, no friends, no support, and the barest minimum of Japanese skill. I felt like I was trailblazing my way through life. [Then,] I bought fabric softener instead of laundry soap, got the garbage days wrong, and I had to get a Japanese person from my office to come help me get a cell phone. I went from feeling like a badass to a needy loser. My self-esteem was the lowest it had been in years.” (S, American, 41)
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